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Urban wildlife


Last week, researchers revealed that bumblebees fare better in urban rather than agricultural environments. City colonies produced more males and reached a larger size, had more food stores and survived longer. They concluded that urban environments provide longer-lived, more varied flowers than intensively farmed agricultural areas.

urban fox

The urban fox: thriving on city rats and mice. Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images


A study last year revealed that the number of urban foxes in the UK has quadrupled in the past 20 years – one for every 300 urban human residents. Bournemouth had the highest concentration, with 23 per sq km, London 18 and Bristol 16. London’s high rat and mice populations are a particular draw.

Kittiwakes on Tyne Bridge

Safe from harm: kittiwakes by the Tyne in Newcastle. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo


According to research from Bristol University, the number of urban gulls quadrupled between 2000 and 2015. Gulls are attracted to urban areas because the temperatures are 4-6C warmer, extending the birds’ breeding season; moreover they encounter fewer predators and can forage using street lighting. A University of the West of England study found chicken bones, pork ribs, plastic cutlery and rubber bands in the birds’ nests.

culex pipiens molestus

Coming to a subway near you: Culex pipiens molestus. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

London Underground mosquito

First reported during the second world war, this mosquito is a genetically distinct species. Its surface-dwelling relative Culex pipiens bites only birds and hibernates; Culex pipiens molestus, however, has adapted to underground life by feeding on human blood and not needing to hibernate. While it is thought the mosquito first evolved in London it is also found on the Tokyo and New York subway systems.

urban blackbird

The urban blackbird: able to cope with cars and cats. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo


Evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen has discovered that city blackbirds have shorter beaks, don’t migrate and sing at a different pitch – adaptations that prevent them from breeding with their forest relatives. A study from the Max Planck Institute found that European urban blackbirds had a lower stress response than their forest-dwelling equivalents, an adjustment to the presence of humans, cats, cars and so on that characterise urban life.


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